In April 2017, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) confirmed it will be rolling out an independent, centralised assessment, the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), or the ‘super-exam,’ by September 2020. This single exam will spell the end of the Graduate Diploma in Law (law conversions courses) and the Legal Practice Course (the vocational stage of training for solicitors).
The aim is to ensure that everybody meets the same high standards, passing the same exam regardless of whether they have studied a law degree, been on an apprenticeship scheme, or have a non-law university background. In fact, the new guidelines will not specify any courses or training; if you can pass the exam, you can qualify. From now on apprentices, law graduates and trainees will all be on an equal footing, encouraging employers to be less elitist and courses and training will become more flexible.
What does this mean for those studying law now?
If you started your law degree, GDL or LPC before 2020 you won’t have to take the super-exam, you can qualify as usual taking the known traditional route. Anyone starting after 2020 will have to take the new SQE.
Will law degrees be affected?
Possibly. Some law degree courses may become more ‘vocational’ in content to prepare for the SQE. Others will remain more ‘traditional.‘ It will be up to students to choose what’s best for them personally. All law graduates will have to pass the super-exam.
Will non-law students still be able to qualify as solicitors?
Yes. Preparation courses for the SQE will no doubt start to emerge, but students will no longer have to do a law conversion course; it is up to them how they prepare for the exam.
Will the BPTC (the Bar professional training course for barristers) be changed too?
Not yet, but it’s on the cards.
What’s the difference between SQE Part One and SQE Part Two?
Part One will be cheap (apparently), and you can choose to start work experience either before you have passed, or after, regardless of whether you have a law degree or not.
Part Two (not so cheap) can only be taken once you’ve passed Part One and it’s assumed (not compulsory) that most students will also undertake two years work experience during this time. However, some students may opt for a preparation course instead; others may choose to learn through work experience. The bottom line is, it’s up to you; if you have the skills to pass Part Two, you’ll qualify.
So, no more training contracts?
Yes, but they will be called work experience and will be much more flexible. Law firms will still undoubtedly require two years experience, but students will be able to do it in up to four different organisations. Also, the requirement to experience three distinct areas or to have to have worked in both contentious and non-contentious areas will be removed.
How much will the SQE cost?
Around £3-£4K, slightly cheaper than the current system, but this is just for the SQE alone, there will still be costs for preparation courses for the SQE and/or some form of LPC-like work experience.
Currently, GDL courses can cost up to £10K. The LPC can cost up to £16K. Both are highly competitive; around 9,000 people apply every year, but there are usually only 5,500 training contracts available. For this reason (and of course the costs), scrapping the LPC is long overdue for many. The SQE will also allow law degree students to save money by integrating LPC subjects into their law degree. Plus the practical element of the SQE will enable trainees to fund themselves while working.
Apart from law degrees, apprenticeships and GDL’s, what other routes to qualification are currently available?
More flexible, financially viable options are already starting to emerge and expect more to come in the run-up to the SQE.
The University of Law is soon to offer GDL students the opportunity to upgrade to a LLB (law degree) by studying three additional modules online. This new format will allow students to work while they study. And guess what? It’s free!
BPP Law School has announced they will offer masters degrees, LLM Legal Practice (Solicitors) and LLM Legal Practice (Barristers) giving students the opportunity to specialise.
Finally, the best bit?
Students will be eligible for postgraduate student loans.